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SO MARCHING achieves nothing?
In the last few weeks the massive movement to bring an end to the Gaza war has given Keir Starmer the biggest jolt of his miserable leadership, forced the Liberal Democrats to back a ceasefire and, most significantly, brought down a semi-fascist Home Secretary.
Be in no doubt, none of this would have happened without hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, in London and across the country, to demand that British politicians support a ceasefire and work to end the calamity unfolding in Gaza.
Mobilising millions delivers what misery and massacres alone could not — forcing open the political cracks.
Those who like to moan about “A to B marches” might reflect that if C is the departure of Suella Braverman and D the first cracks in the Starmer regime, then a powerful purpose has been served.
No worthwhile march ends politically when the placards are packed away and the microphones silenced.
Street power is a serious political intervention, intersecting with other forms of struggle. The movement mobilised for Palestine has the breadth, energy, endurance and perspective to shake up the elite.
Like all such movements, it drags in its wake people better left indoors — odious anti-semites, conspiracists, performative poseurs. But to pretend they represent more than a minuscule element is a political fraud.
And as for those calling a couple of months ago for Stop the War to wind itself up, one can only hope they find the grace to apologise.
There is more of moment about this mass movement. Let’s bring Lenin in here. In his celebrated Left-Wing Communism he devoted a passage to anticipating what might precipitate a revolutionary situation in Britain, the mightiest capitalist state in the world as of 1920.
This is what he wrote: “It is possible that the breach will be forced, the ice broken, by a parliamentary crisis, or by a crisis arising from colonial and imperialist contradictions, which are hopelessly entangled and are becoming increasingly painful and acute.”
At that time and for many of the years since, British communists believed that socialism was more likely to be put on the agenda by industrial turbulence arising out of acute capitalist exploitation and union struggles.
Lenin, I think, saw further. He conceived of revolution on a world scale and saw the global crisis which British imperialism had enmeshed itself in as more likely to light the touchpaper.
Fast forward a century and it is a signal fact that the most powerful, sweeping and angry mass movements in this country have arisen against imperialism and war — first in 2001-05 and now again today, in both cases around issues which have very limited direct impact on the working population here.
But the whole project of socialism and revolution entirely depends on working people comprehending themselves as active agents in a crisis which stretches well beyond their own homes, communities and workplaces.
A class for itself changes the world beyond pay packets and government budgets. It also poses a systemic alternative to imperialism, its oppression and its wars, even if the latter are fought far from our shores.
To approach from another angle, it is surely significant that the Braverman moment, the endeavour to conjure into being an authoritarian-populist mass movement of a quasi-fascist type, has arisen in the teeth of this mass movement rather than, say, against last year’s strike wave.
The latter was greeted with the usual Daily Mail-denunciations, and further Tory tweaks to already draconian anti-strike legislation. But violence was not incited, nor was the popular will invoked against indulgent policing of picket lines.
Conservative ministers behaved normally, according to their own lights. The Gaza crisis has prompted a plunge into raging abnormality.
The drift towards Trump-style culture war-conservatism has been afoot for a while of course, driven by angst at the social dislocations caused by capitalist globalisation and by Tory hopes that prejudice and ignorance will serve as substitutes for economic well-being in hanging on to those “red wall” seats.
GB News as well as more traditional Tory media outlets have worked might and main to bring politics to this moment, and it has been obvious for the last year that Suella Braverman has seen off all rivals for the Trumpian crown.
Very large and very diverse demonstrations week after week in London in solidarity with an oppressed people was, let’s say, triggering for this emerging Braverman bloc.
Alas for the rightists, their champion’s demagogy was not matched by anything discernible as judgement. Had she simply stuck to smearing the vast pro-Palestine movement as “hate marchers” she might have survived in office.
Or had she focused on supposed police liberalism, Rishi Sunak could have cut her a pass. But to do both at once was a rookie error.
In the face of hundreds of thousands on the streets in a mood of militant outrage at government complicity in mass killing, few Tories would pick that moment to go into even partial opposition to the state apparatus. Wisely, I would say.
But again it must be emphasised — had the solidarity movement bowed to pressure and called off the Armistice Day march, the crisis would have cooled and Braverman might still be fulminating from the Home Office. It was democratic defiance that destroyed the demagogue, not slippery Sunak’s sensitivities.
Doubtless more will be heard from the raucous Braverman, who will try to build a movement that can call on more than a few hundred fascists unsteady after a lager breakfast. The Cenotaph’s “saviours” seemed to have taken their folk tradition of a beer-hall putsch a little too literally.
With smarter heads than Braverman’s, a future round-up of reactionary right street forces will not start by insulting the Orange Order either.
In the meantime, Sunak has pivoted towards trying to win back those voters for whom David Cameron is a reassuring figure. No takers in Libya for that, recalling the new Foreign Secretary’s lasting legacy.
As for Keir Starmer, his handling of the Gaza crisis underlines two things we know about the Labour leader.
His loyalty to the state and to the pillars of British imperialism, alignment with Washington above all, is unyielding — and he doesn’t really understand his own party and its electorate.
So he has been forced to abandon party discipline as 18 frontbenchers at last count break ranks to demand a ceasefire, MPs defy his ban on attending the protests and senior Labour politicians from Anas Sarwar to Sadiq Khan to Andy Burnham align with the masses against official policy.
Starmer is left looking cruel, isolated and weak, defending ramparts the best of his party has long abandoned and praying daily for Joe Biden to sound the bugle permitting retreat.
However much his wire-pullers laud his statesman-like fit-for-office shtick, he has been well rumbled.
Any sort of plausible alternative able to capture the boiling disgust with the government-opposition synchronised support for slaughter would make an instant impact.
That will not likely be the Liberal Democrats. They have shifted to the ceasefire side too late to reap the sort of benefits they secured in 2005 for consistent opposition to the Iraq aggression.
So, as with the strike wave, the concrete question is who can give this movement deeper political articulation? There is a crisis within the Establishment, and the masses do not suffer the old order. Time to raise our sights.
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